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Scientists gather to protect global food security from return of devastating wheat fungus

The sudden and unexpected re-emergence of a fungus that could cripple wheat production in Africa, Asia and, eventually, Europe and the Americas, has prompted wheat experts from around the world, led by Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, to gather March 17-20 in Ciudad Obregn, Mexico, to map out a strategy for averting agricultural disaster for a crop that provides food and livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people.

In an indication of the international scope of the threat, scientists from an unprecedented number and range of countries among them Australia, China, Iran, India, Egypt, the U.S., Mexico, Kenya, Uruguay, South Africa, Canada, Denmark, and Ethiopiawill present new information on the development and distribution of wheat that is resistant to a new strain of wheat stem rust called Ug99. The spread of this virulent new strain is ultimately expected to require replacement of most wheat varieties under cultivation worldwide.

In the 1950s, a fatal strain of wheat stem rust invaded North America and, at one point, ruined 40 percent of the spring wheat crop. The epidemic prompted Borlaug, working with a team of scientists in Mexico, to develop highly productive, rust-resistant varieties that helped launch the Green Revolution. The work was credited with averting hunger and starvation for millions worldwide and earned Borlaug the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. For decades, wheat varieties that were a product of the Green Revolution have kept farmers safe from stem rust. But these varieties are not resistant to a new strain of stem rust that emerged unexpectedly several years ago in Uganda and shows signs of posing a significant threat to wheat production worldwide.

The site of the meeting in Ciudad Obregn is where Borlaug and his Mexican partners did much of their original work. It is home to a wheat research station owned by the Mexican agricultural research program, INIFAP, and the farmer association Patronato, and used by the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (in Spanish: Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maz y Trigo, or CIMMYT) as a hub for its global wheat research efforts. The meeting is part of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, led by Cornell University, CIMMYT, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). For a complete list of the executive committee of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, please see:

WHEN: March 17-20, 2009

WHERE: Fiesta Inn, Ciudad Obregn, Mexico (Accessible via air either directly or through Mexico City airport)

WHAT: The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative 2009 Technical Workshop

DETAILS: Agenda and background information available at:

To arrange site visits in Kenya or Mexico and/or to attend the conference, please contact:
Coimbra Sirica at +1 631 836 3181 or
Megan Dold at +1 301 652 1558 or


Contact: Coimbra Sirica
Burness Communications

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